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FRANCE: PARIS.

'Modern since 1669,' is the slogan that Stephane Lissner, Director of Opera national de Paris chose for the year-long celebrations marking the company's 350th anniversary and many of the productions here under his tenure have indeed been ground-breaking. But is Dmitri Tcherniakov's new production of Hector Berlioz's monumental opera Les Troyens (seen Feb. 9th), which celebrates a double anniversary if we include the 30th season at the Opera Bastille venue, a modern staging or a parody of a modern staging? In 1990, Opera Bastille officially opened with Berlioz's operatic masterpiece in two parts: Prise de Troie and Les Troyens a Carthage and if that Pier Luigi Pizzi remained traditional, the subsequent Herbert Wernicke production from 2006 with its strong visual impact, richness of ideas and dramatic power was a major breakthrough staging of this work.

Tcherniakov is an excellent storyteller, his productions are clear, easy to read but often void of any form of pathos--his Traviata at La Scala was a perfect example of this; without going into detail, it took place in a kitchen. If modern means bland this was it.

In Berlioz's Part I, King Priam (here, a military dictator) and his family take their places in a typical Tcherniakov kitsch, wood-paneled living room to sit for a royal portrait. It's a clever device to remind us who is who and to introduce the roles and their individual characteristics, even the minor parts that are only mentioned but never seen. Cassandie (Stephanie d'Oustrac) is the revolutionary of the family, the others are dressed stiff Courreges style while she's more over-size Yamamoto (all costumes designed by Tcherniakov). While a news ticker projection keeps us up to date with developments in the city, a TV crew interviews Cassandre, who reveals her worst premonitions. An excellent actress, well accustomed to Tcherniakov s technique, (she was a wonderful Carmen in the Russian directors 2017 Aix-en-Provence production) the role of Cassandra is too dramatic for her voice, especially in the gigantic Bastille auditorium.

Stephane Degout, easily one of the best French baritones at the moment, plays Chorebe, Cassandra's conventional suitor and up-holder of family values. Veronique Gens makes a very brief vocal impression but is elegantly statuesque as Hecube, obedient wife of King Priam sung by Paata Burchuladze. Though his voice is barely audible, the veteran Giorgian bass cuts an odious figure as the corrupt monarch. Flashback video footage over which Tcherniakov reveals characters' inner thoughts imply that Cassandre was abused by Priam as a child.

Brandon Jovanovich is a tortured Enee, who in this version betrays his country by facilitating the Greek takeover of Troy. The American tenor does well dramatically but lacks the vibrancy and high notes especially in "Inutiles regrets." The last to reluctantly arrive for the family portrait is Ascagne, a no-future teenager played with perfect mimic body language by FrenchCanadian mezzo-soprano Michele Losier. It is implied that Priam's choice of Hector's son as Troy's heir rather than Ascagne leads to what is essentially a coup d'etat by Enee. In Tcherniakov's modern take, it is Cassandra in Troy rather than Didon in Carthage who immolates herself to avoid being defiled by the Greek soldiers.

In Part II, rather than being stranded on the shores of Carthage we find ourselves in a residential centre for war victims suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Red-vested nursing aids organize therapy and role-playing sessions for the residents, (a device already seen in Tcherniakov's 2017 Aix Carmen). Losier is touching in "O reine, sur nos pas une sanglante trace," her diction perfect, voice ringing, but alas the queen is the dowdy chief of staff and Enee, her patient. Luckily, Ekaterina Semenchuk is exceptionally good as Didon, her dark rich tone ideal and her diction clear. The regal 'Chasse Royale' is nothing more than a game for the patients, a sort of charades with cardboard signs scrolled with: Naiades, Grotte etc. Boredom is guaranteed--theirs and ours.

The onus is on the singers to save the night: Cyrille Dubois as Iopas sang "O blonde Ceres" beautifully. The role of Anna benefitted from the wonderful mezzo voice of Aude Extremo. She impressively plays ping-pong while singing with Narbal, the excellent Christian Van Horn; both are wardens biding their time in the residence. The smaller roles: Tomislav Lavoie as a soldier, Jean-Franfois Marras as Helenus and Sophie Claisse as Polyxene are all excellent.

Philippe Jordan, who is very much at ease in this repertoire, drew fine playing from the Orchestre de l'Opera national de Paris.

However, in sum, this is not Tcherniakov's best. It quotes some of his more successful productions such as the aforementioned Carmen but without the same intensity or coherence. In this case, the modern take is at risk of becoming routine rather than revitalizing.--Denise Wendel-Poray

Caption: Scene from Opera national de Paris's Les Troyens

Caption: Johannes Mertes (Engels), Di Yang (Franz), Yannick-Muriel Noah (Jenny) & Mark Morouse (Marx) in Theater Bonn's Marx in London
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Author:Wendel-Poray, Denise
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Opera review
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 22, 2019
Words:818
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